On 26th October 2016, the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) finally came to an end on the BBC. In its seven series, the show has become a national institution, credited with the sharp rise of the popularity of home baking in the UK. In this guest blog, Laura Clancy discusses the significance of the inclusion of the royal family in the 2016 finale, and how this can be interpreted as a cultural crafting of nationhood.
Posts Tagged ‘Austerity’
Last week, Laura and Kim were invited to speak at a brilliant one-day conference organised by CRESC and the University of Manchester, entitled ‘A sense of inequality’. They drew on findings from the project to attend to young people’s everyday negotiations and understandings of inequality. In this short blog post, Laura and Kim give a brief report on their presentation and the day itself.
In case you didn’t see it, on Wednesday, Sir Michael Wilshaw – Chief Inspector for Schools (Ofsted) – released his annual report on the state of education in England. Identifying major gaps and regional variations in educational attainment, Wilshaw blamed low expectations and mediocre teaching while dismissing ‘real poverty’ :
I suppose what I would say to them [regions that are struggling] is to raise your aspirations and make your aspirations for your young people really clear and that poverty is no barrier to success and I think that is what London has proved more than anything. (BBC 11/12/13)
As you will know from our past blog posts, Wilshaw is the latest in a number of politicians and government figures who have explained educational differences through recourse to individualised explanations rather than structural causes – ignoring both a raft of research (including our own) that reveals that young people from ‘disadvantaged’ backgrounds have no shortage of aspirations, and an international body of evidence that shows time and time again that unless income inequality and poverty are tackled, schools and teachers can only do so much.
Such comments come at a time of growing poverty in England – evidenced by the tripling of families using food banks, and growth of in-work poverty - arguably exacerbated by the government’s punitive welfare reforms. To ignore the role of poverty in shaping young people’s lives and educational outcomes is not simply ignorant but irresponsible.
After a flurry of calls and cajoling from her university press office, Kim was interviewed by Channel 4 reporters on Wednesday afternoon. She appears very briefly in this Channel 4 report – aired on Wednesday night – challenging Wilshaw’s comments that poverty of aspiration rather than real poverty is to blame for educational inequality.
(Bit of a shame they spelt Kim’s name wrong but you can’t have it all…..)
Our intention for this project is that it has genuine relevence beyond our academic communities; that the findings can be useful to those people working with young people or on issues that affect their lives – from education policymakers to youth and education practitioners. As a team, we’ve written critically about how we are positioned in relation to the ‘impact agenda’ and the challenges we’ve encountered in communicating our research to the media and policy communities. However, we have enjoyed and benefited from productive and generative conversations with practitioners who have engaged with the research – from teachers who have supported us on Twitter and came to hear our talk at the Media Education Association, to careers educators who attended our workshop at the CDI conference, and the many practitioners from across teaching, careers and youth work who came along to our interim workshop in October. One participant at the workshop was Tania de St Croix – a researcher, campaigner and youth worker. In this guest blog post, Tania shares her thoughts on our emerging findings and the challenges in making these meaningful and useful to those working with youth in times that are challenging for both young people and the sector itself.
One is not born, but rather one becomes a woman – Simone de Beauvoir, 1953
This well-known assertion of Simone de Beauvoir, pointing toward the social and cultural mores that form and regulate an individual as a ‘woman’, is especially apt in light of the controversy surrounding the finalists of BBC2’s Great British Bake Off. The three female finalists have been variously castigated for being too miserable, too opinionated, too confident and too feminine. The repeated characterisations of the women in terms of inflexible, binary gender roles, alongside the criticisms of them for either failing to live up to these or – bizarrely – for adhering to them too closely, invites further analysis of the presentation of womanliness and femininity in the media. Moreover, the presence in the criticism of underlying suspicions regarding the race and class status of the women finalists demonstrates the increasing need for more fine-grained examinations of how we approach the still-troubling and troublesome category of ‘woman’. In this co-authored blog post, CelebYouth’s Kim and guest blogger Sarah Burton discuss the relationship between the structural context of GBBO and the individual presentations of gender therein, with a particular focus on the interactions between media, Britishness and public space.
At the gym last week, I listened to the latest episode in one of my favourite podcasts, ‘The Slate Culture Gabfest’, a funny, critical and intelligent review of cultural ‘happenings’ from film to literature. In the show, the presenters interviewed fashion commentator Simon Doonan about his new book ‘Asylum’, a collection of essays on the fashion industry’s ‘glamorous madness and stylish insanity’. Leaving aside my issues with this kind of highly selective appropriation and celebration of ‘madness’ and ‘inclusivity’ within the art and fashion world, I was intrigued by Doonan’s account of his literal and social journey from his working-class parents’ home in ‘the boonies’ (the suburbs of Reading) to become part of New York’s fashion elite. In this post, I share some of my reflections on the significance of Doonan’s story and how it led me back to Michael Gove’s class project.
‘Now’ can feel a lot like ‘then’ – the 1980s – with young people urged to ‘raise their aspirations’, take ‘responsibility’ and grasp the challenge of ‘enterprise’; all in a political context of high youth unemployment and drastic ‘reforms’ to welfare entitlements. Again we hear calls for ‘a nation of young entrepreneurs’. In this guest blog post, Robert MacDonald reflects more critically on the lessons we might learn from research in the 1980s about youth and ‘the enterprise culture’.
On 9th May, The Education Secretary Michael Gove delivered a keynote speech at a conference hosted by Brighton College (The Sunday Times ‘Best Independent School’ no less). The title – What does it mean to be an educated person? – is provocative enough, but the full speech is really something else. There has already been a lot of excellent analysis of Gove’s sneering and patronising speech on twitter, in cartoon form, on several blogs (a great example being this by The Plashing Vole), among professional associations, and in the news. We don’t want to repeat too much of this, but rather to draw attention to three key issues about education reform and aspirations discourse under this government – crystalised within Gove’s speech – which continue to raise concern for us.
On 7th May the UK’s Guardian newspaper carried a short story headlined “Brian Cox urges BBC to do more to educate viewers”. It reports that, in an interview in Radio Times, Physicist and Science TV presenter Brian Cox said:
Television is the most powerful way of getting ideas across. Often, it doesn’t take its responsibilities seriously. … We have had enough of talent shows. I don’t want my kids exposed to them and get it into their minds there’s a shortcut to riches. I want them to go to university and work hard for everything they get.
While we welcome the recognition of the importance of television as a pedagogical tool, we are troubled by some of the assumptions underlying Cox’s statement about young people’s aspirations and their relationship to Reality TV talent shows. In this blog, Kim and Heather share their concerns.
Aspiration is the engine of progress. Countries rise when they allow their people to rise. In this world where brains matter more, where technologies shape our lives, where no-one is owed a living: the most powerful natural resource we have is our people. -David Cameron
In this post I take a critical eye to the use of ‘aspiration’ in David Cameron’s speech yesterday. What does he mean when he talks about aspiration? And what is left out?
David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Party conference yesterday focused strongly on the topic of aspiration, positioned as the solution to economic crisis and the tool to ‘meet the challenges our country faces’.
Language is not a transparent thing. The words that we use and how we define particular terms construct certain versions of the world; what gets to count as ‘true’ in any given moment – what Foucault referred to as ‘truth effects’.
Cameron’s speech is a fascinating text to examine the construction of the notion of ‘aspiration’.